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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Joachimite apocalypticism, Cistercian mysticism and the sense of disintegration in Perlesvaus and The queste del saint Graal O’Hagan, Michael


The two early thirteenth-century romances Perlesvaus and the Queste del saint Graal are strongly influenced by particular theological doctrines. The primary influence on Perlesvaus is apocalyptic: not only does it reflect characteristically apocalyptic concepts of justice, moral obligation and redemption, but it also depends on the all-encompassing struggle between good and evil to unify its plot. More specifically, Perlesvaus shows special affinity for the particular apocalyptic views of Joachim of Fiore, whose theory of the three ages of history and whose exege-tical principle of concordia litterae-are important influences on it. The theology of the Queste, on the other hand, is mystical, emphasizing the inner life of the soul; yet the mystical Queste is more concerned with knighthood than is Perlesvaus. The ultimate fruit of spiritual enlightenment, moral struggle and growth in grace - all important themes in themselves - is a renewed knighthood drawing its inner strength from holiness and capable of giving the godly knight the kind of meaningful chivalrous adventure that his more worldly fellows cannot achieve. Underlying these distinct theologies is a common preoccupation with change and dissolution expressed principally through the material imagery of water, representing transition and the threat of destruction, and of fire, evoking the unchangeable absoluteness of the beyond. Further similarities in the less prominent material images of earth and sky and in the choice of colour images confirm that the parallel use of imagery of destructive water and of a fire that is more light than flame is not simple coincidence. Two very different theological responses have been elicited by a shared longing for the pure and absolute in the midst of profoundly menacing change.

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